This Tuesday I went with my SO and another couple to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I am not familiar with the GotG comics in any capacity, similar to most moviegoers, but I came out of the theater with a smile on my face (who wouldn’t smile at this?) and full intentions to see the sequel when it comes out in 2017. The movie is just plain fun to watch. A snarky Raccoon, an eloquently speaking wrestler, 80’s music, and interplanetary plot twists, what’s not to like? Well, unfortunately there are a few things not to like regarding the treatment of female characters.
In my opinion GotG just barely passes the Bechdel test, but that opinion is not shared by everyone. The film fails in several respects with its treatment of women, which are all covered in this recent Salon article if you want to know more about those failings. I understand the reasoning of those on the side of it not passing the test. And I know I am taking the optimistic route by saying that GotG passed the Bechdel test through the banter and fighting that occurs between Gamora and Nebula.
Gamora, played by Zoe Saldana, and Nebula, played by Karen Gillan, are the adopted daughters of Thanos. We meet them as they are working for Ronan the Accuser. Nebula is striking in appearance, with her striped blue skin, cyborg enhancements, and her dower facial expressions. We immediately understand the dynamic between these siblings when Gamora snatches an assignment out of Nebula’s hands. Nebula does not react well to that, let me assure you. She is ambitious and she is cruel, putting her own goals above everyone else. I think I like her the best.
In contrast, Gamora is warmer in appearance, with pink ombre hair and green skin, and exudes a self-assurance that Nebula must envy. I got the vibes that Nebula is desperate to be obeyed and feared, and is only able to obtain self-confidence through perfection and ruthless ambition. Whereas Gamora is cocky and carries her athletic prowess with the ease of someone you’d think was born with it. Both sisters were the subject of Thanos’s experiments to create the perfect soldier, and neither is without a gritty and dark past. Gamora witnessed the murder of her own parents at the hands of Thanos, and was forced to endure being his daughter every day after. Both characters are complicated women, with different motivations, weaknesses, and strengths. ***Warning – Spoilers Ahead***
The task these sisters fought over was to find a silver orb stolen by Starlord, aka Peter Quill, and deliver it to Ronan. In the process of chasing Quill down, Gamora, Quill, Rocket (the racoon), and Groot (the tree voiced by Vin Diesel) are all arrested by Nova and sent to a space prison. We find out Gamora is double crossing Ronan, and also Thanos, by seeking the silver orb, selling it on the black market, and using the exorbitant amount of money to run away and start a new life. She is hated by many prisoners because she is seen as a willing accomplice of Thanos’, and they believe her to be a bloodthirsty maniac.
By following tech-savvy Rocket’s plan they manage to escape the prison. In exchange for one fifth of the orbs price, all four accomplices (Drax having joined the motley crew) agree to aid Gamora in getting the silver orb to its wealthy buyer. They find the buyer in Knowhere, a giant celestial head floating in space, colonized by miners of spinal fluid and brain tissue. After a series of unfortunate events Gamora realizes her dreams of escaping are done for. When the orb’s true identity is revealed she knows she cannot run away from this fight, and must take a stand against Thanos and Ronan by delivering the item to safekeeping. Then after even more unfortunate events the orb falls into the hands of Ronan, and the five companions figure out a way to try and stop Ronan from obliterating the universe.
The rest of the movie plays out with a lot of action and a lot of explosions. Gamora and Nebula have a long fight scene which is pretty cool to watch. Gamora is undoubtedly the winner when Nebula goes tumbling through a hole in the side of the ship. Her cyborg arm is punctured by a jutting piece of metal, and Gamora extends her hand, offering to help her sister up. We see Gamora’s compassion here, as she tries to convince her sister to join her. Nebula derides her sister’s compassion, and detaches herself from the giant space craft. She falls and lands on another, smaller ship and takes over command of it before soaring away. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of Nebula in the sequel.
While Guardians of the Galaxy has its failings, I still think the movie is heading in the right direction. However, movie studios need to learn that simply “passing the Bechdel test” isn’t enough. The test has low standards, and for a good reason. It was made to show that even with such low standards very few movies pass the test. The minimum requirements of the Bechdel test should not be the only source referenced for how to include female characters in a movie. Passing the test will not automatically increase the loyalty of female moviegoers. Hopefully with more vocal criticism Marvel Studios will make some changes in how they handle female characters in their future films. Give Gamora and Nebula some more screen time in the sequel!